How did this project come about?
David Salmela, FAIA: It actually came out of another project. We were hired by Tilia’s Restaurant to do a courtyard. The owner’s partner was Jörg Pierach, and he started talking at a meeting about his other building, which housed the advertising firm Fast Horse. I thought I could help out on some analysis of it. The restaurant project didn’t materialize, but, amazingly, the Fast Horse project did. They had renovated a two-story building from its previous use as a vehicle shop for a candy company, but they were over-growing the building. We renovated it and added two floors.
It’s a very tight site in Minneapolis, is that right?
When we started, we knew that the site was real tight and that there wasn’t much property. It’s also a very difficult thing to add two floors to a concrete block building—any engineer would say you can’t do it. I thought about spanning over the top of the existing two floors with columns on the back and front sides of the building, but when we got the site survey back, it showed that we only had 7 inches on the back side. We had to get structure into it. We ended up putting four new columns in the middle of the building and four columns on the street side that played with the exterior walls. It became a very efficient structural system, with a lot of work. There’s a beauty in these two contrasting systems—the existing, which wasn’t even really a system, it was just a functional space, and this new very orderly structure that fits in.
You put the core right on the front—the two egress stairs and the elevator shaft are the front of the building. It plays on your sense of what’s utilitarian and what isn’t.
It was expedient to do double egress stairs on the front of the building, rather than putting them inside, which would destroy the existing structure of the first and second floors. But what’s interesting are some of the things you don’t notice. We had to bring in all of the utilities from the front. They snake from the street, between the new columns, the elevator, and the stairs and right into the main floor. If you look carefully, you’ll see all of the fireproofing pipes—it’s all there. Their presence actually adds those contextual, unexpected elements that exist in life—like power poles and things like that. They make things even more interesting if you deal with them carefully.
How did the graphic pattern on the rear façade evolve?
I was making a field inspection, walking around the building, and I started to think that we need to do some scale play here. I was thinking about all these people in the neighboring buildings, who have to look at this building. And I realized we could make it sort of an art object rather than just a pragmatic building. I’ve always had the philosophy that if you design a building, it has to be functional, pragmatic, and affordable, and then it has to make the neighborhood better as a total. It makes everything more interesting.
What about the materials for the exterior?
We used corrugated Cor-Ten on the elevator. And all of the stairs and the sunscreen are made out of galvanized angle. They’re pretty much maintenance-free materials. With something like punched metal, which is done on all kinds of elaborate screens, I think that the screens become the sculpture, rather than the building. But these galvanized angles—they’re the same material that is at the farm where I was raised, which was built in 1917. I like the notion of using these very base materials. If we had used something else, I don’t think it would have been as powerful.
How did you approach the interior? It seems very open.
The concept of Fast Horse is that nobody sits in the same seat the next day. You’re sitting at a table or a lounge chair and you have your computer plugged in. There’s plugs everywhere. There are conference rooms and then there are telephone booths for calls, which are constructed out of solid timber for sound protection. Carpenters assembled the front desk with the wood that was left—the face of it was the artistry of the carpenter, using the leftover chunks.
You’ve spent your career largely doing residential work, and it strikes me that commercial projects have more constraints. Has it changed your design process?
When I was younger, I worked on a lot of commercial projects, but in the last 25 years, there’s only two projects that were larger—both in rather idyllic settings. Most of our houses are in the city, but not necessarily urban. With Fast Horse, you do think a little bit differently because of the context. The assembly of structures is a process and is sort of inherent to our culture, but in an urban setting, the neighbors already exist and have their own unpredictable history.
Fast Horse cost $323 per square foot. You have a skill for creating great architecture on the lowest budgets. How?
It’s not that I’m so smart. I was raised on a farm and there wasn’t a lot of money, but you always solved the problems in a progressive way, so maybe that’s still coming through. It’s always interesting: During the process, you rely on your instinct, and in the aftermath of a project, you realize what you actually did and why you did it. It’s kind of a mystery. And I really like that.
Project: Fast Horse, Minneapolis
Client: Fast Horse
Design Architect: Salmela Architect, Duluth, Minn. . David D. Salmela, FAIA (principal); Malini Srivastava, AIA (project architect); Darin Duch, Stephanie Getty, David Getty (project team)
Mechanical/Electrical Engineer: EDI
Structural Engineer: Meyer Borgman Johnson
Civil Engineer: Pierce Pine and Associates
General Contractor: Watson-Forsberg
Size: 12,000 total square feet (9,000 interior square feet, plus 3,000 square feet of terraces and balconies)
Cost: $2.9 million